Physician-Assisted Suicide

Abstract

The physician-assisted suicide is the way to end a life when a patient has a terminal illness and doctors can do nothing to help the patient. In fact, there is a difference between the physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. Many people think that it is the same, but actually there is one big difference. During the physician-assisted suicide procedure the doctor may not stay with the patient and do not take direct actions towards the patient. The mission of a doctor is to give a pill that contains a lethal dose of medication that will kill the patient. There are a lot of arguments concerning this issue; some people support this idea, while others are against it. Nevertheless, the majority of people think that it is a personal decision and agree that sometimes it is the only way to stop suffering.

The Technical Aspect of Physician-Assisted Suicide

Physician-Assisted Suicide is not a new invention, ancient Greek and Romans used it to stop suffering of sick people. The term physician-assisted death may refer to physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. During this procedure a physician gives a mean to end his or her life, and usually it is a lethal dose of medication that the patient must take to end his or her life and it is the main difference between euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. During the procedure of euthanasia the physician must act directly, for example, give a lethal injection to end the life of the patient (Bryant, 2003). While during the physician-assisted suicide the physician may not be present. The patient may decide to make this procedure because of many facts, for example a patient has a terminal illness that exhausts the patient’s organism and he will die suffering. Physicians point out four categories in order to clarify the differences in actions of physician-assisted suicide (“Ethics in clerkships.”n.d.):

  • Active, involuntary. The physician kills the patient contrary the patient’s wish.
  • Active, voluntary. The physician kills the patient according to his wish.
  • Passive, involuntary. The physician lets the patient die contrary his or her wish.
  • Passive, voluntary. The physician lets the patient die that would be appropriate to the patient’s wish.

The Public Policy towards Physician-Assisted Suicide

Among western industrialized countries, only Belgium, the Netherlands, and few states in the U.S. have an act that legalizes the physician-assisted suicide. In Belgium the physician-assisted suicide was legalized in 2002 after the legalization of it in the Netherland in 2001. In 1997, the physician-assisted suicide but not euthanasia was legalized in Oregon. According to the New England Journal of Medicine the physician-assisted death is legal in Washington, Oregon and Montana. In other states, such as Hawaii, Vermont and Pennsylvania the physician-assisted suicide is allowed for people who have terminal illnesses (Gordon, 2013). In November 2008, the Death with Dignity Act was accepted. This act contains many safeguards:

  • The patient must be competent and his or her illness must be terminal.
  • The patient’s request must be voluntary. The patient may have a mental disorder that can influence his or her judgment. However, the patient must know what palliative care options are available and what treatment is possible.

The additional information about safeguards is available at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. During 2009 – 2011, 114 patients asked to join the Death with Dignity program. 44 of those patients decided not to pursue the program. Another 30 patients started the program but refused to continue it. 40 patients received a prescription for a lethal dose of a powerful sedative. Twenty four of these patients died within 35 minutes after the injection of this medicine. Another sixteen decided not to use this prescription and died because of cancer. The average age of these people was 42-91 years. The most common reasons that they had mentioned were the loss of autonomy, loss of dignity, and an inability to engage in enjoyable activities. All these people were diagnosed with a terminal cancer (Gordon, 2013).

Arguments towards Physician-Assisted Suicide

Most people in The USA support the physician-assisted suicide, but under two conditions: first, it must be a voluntary decision of the patient, and the second is that the patient has a terminal illness. There are a lot of discusses concerning the ethical issue of physician-assisted suicide. First of all, it is the oath of Hypocrite that says not to do harm. Also, there is a statement that those doctors who have a license to make this procedure are “the doctors with a license to kill” or murders (Rogatz, 2001).This statement is illogical, because, in fact, the physician does not kill the patient, but gives a lethal dose of medicament, and it is a patient’s decision to take it or not. Another opinion is that the patient does not receive adequate treatment or he or she was not diagnosed in a proper way. Bad hospital conditions may cause negative thoughts about suicide. There is no confidence that the proper management will reduce the number of patients who think about suicide, but there should be management that will reduce pain and depression. Nevertheless, pain and depression are not main factors; the total dependence is even more depressive than constant pain. The loss of dignity and autonomy are those factors that give people a feeling of being a human. The loss of these abilities makes the patient feel misery and desperation.

However, there are different opinions concerning physician-assisted suicide. The majority of people believe that physician-assisted suicide is a personal decision. In some cases, this procedure is the only way to help the patient who has insufferable pain. Nevertheless, people want be sure that everything possible have been done to help a person and the physician-assisted suicide is the last thing that can be done. On the other hand, those people who have strong religious beliefs see the physician-assisted suicide as a negative action that contradicts their faith. Practically all religions forbid to commit any kind of suicide. It is treated as a sin and those people who truly believe in God will never agree on this procedure and even have negative opinions concerning those people who assist during this procedure.

My Personal Opinion

In my opinion, the physician-assisted suicide has more positive sides than negative. First, this procedure is voluntary, nobody can force the patient to take a pill and end his or her life. People decide to use this procedure when they realize that have the terminal illness and this illness will become even worth with time. In this case, I understand people’s decision and even support their point of view. On the other hand, the doctors must be absolutely sure that the illness does not influence the patient ability to make adequate decisions. The patient must absolutely understand what he does and his relatives must be informed and agree with this action. I totally agree with the program of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. According to its statistics, about 80 % of people who decided to make a physician-assisted suicide gave a negative answer on different stages of the program and in the end do not agree to do this procedure. I think such programs should give people time to overthink everything one more time and do not hurry with their decision. No doubt, people who have strong religious beliefs will be always against such programs and will always condemn those people who do it and those doctors who assist this procedure. However, I believe that in our modern society everybody has a right to follow his or her own beliefs and do what he thinks is better. To condemn people who decide to make this procedure is wrong and from my point of view it is even unethical because we cannot judge people who suffer from illness and if it is the only way to stop suffering we cannot condemn them.